Two city inspectors were supposed to be the last line of defense to make sure cancer-causing asbestos material did not escape from the demolition of a long-vacant public housing project.
But they failed, and acknowledged that they were negligent. For their inaction, they were sentenced to a year of probation Thursday in federal court.
William Manuszewski, 60, and Donald Grzebielucha, 59, could have faced a year in prison and hefty fines for the work they didn’t do at Kensington Heights, but U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara spoke favorably of the men during separate sentencing proceedings.
Grzebielucha “has led a very law-abiding life and is very remorseful,” while Manuszewski showed “true remorse” and is a good neighbor, Arcara said.
The men were assigned to inspect the work of a private company hired to remove and dispose of asbestos and that of another hired to monitor the air during an asbestos-removal effort at the East Side housing complex.
In statements to the court, the defendants apologized. “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” Manuszewski said.
“I was a tough but fair inspector,” said Grzebielucha, who started with the city when he was 24, a month after his father died. He said he learned integrity and honesty from his dad, saying, “I never intentionally put anyone in harm’s way.”
Manuszewski was able to keep his job with the city, and his superior in City Hall wrote a letter to Arcara on his behalf, saying the defendant was one of the most responsible building inspectors the city has.
Grzebielucha is retired.
The two pleaded guilty May 8 to one misdemeanor charge each of negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act and admitted that their actions put other people at risk. They did not plead guilty to more-serious allegations of falsifying records, contained in the 2011 indictment.
Their guilty pleas on charges of negligence were appropriate, their attorneys said.
“He was negligent in carrying out his responsibilities because he didn’t have the right training,” said Michael J. Stachowski, who represented Manuszewski.
Grzebielucha’s attorney, Joseph J. Terranova, said he relied on compliance monitors and the representations of others.
The defendants faced a possible sentence of one year in jail and fines of up to $30,000. Arcara did not impose fines.
The two were part of a group of 11 defendants – nine individuals and two companies – charged in a 23-count indictment stemming from the asbestos-removal project at the 17-acre housing complex.
Air samples from the neighborhood indicated that asbestos levels inside the complex’s six towers exceeded federal standards but that levels outside the complex did not.
A state inspector, Theodore Lehmann, is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 1. He retired from the Department of Labor and pleaded guilty May 13 to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Air Act.
A former air sampling technician who worked for a private contractor, Chris Coseglia, is scheduled to be sentenced Monday. Coseglia admitted to looking the other way and pleaded guilty last September to being an accessory after the fact to a false statement, a misdemeanor.
Charges against two companies, Johnson Contracting of Buffalo and JMD Environmental Inc., were dropped when they went out of business.